Refugee Stories: From East Bay Sanctuary Covenant

All these stories are real and all names were changed due to privacy reasons, because these women are hiding for their lives.  Also, please keep in mind that some of these stories might be too graphic for underaged viewers.

I am posting all their stories, because all these women deserve to have a voice that the world can hear so they can speak up against the inhumanity they have endured and empower themselves and other women who have gone through similar atrocities.

CLEMENTINA’S STORY

I am a 27-year-old woman from Mexico. I am one of eleven children. My father was very violent and brutally beat my mother because he did not like that she questioned why he came home late. We children could not get involved because he would then beat us. My mother took out her suffering on us kids.

My parents regularly beat us with cables or belts if anything wrong happened, even if it was something as small as a glass of water falling on the ground. My father beat me until I peed myself.

Since I was a little girl, my brothers and father sexually abused me. The abuse escalated from molestation to rape. I became pregnant before I was a teenager. To do this day, I do not know if my father or one of my brothers fathered my child. I  could not talk to anyone. My father and brothers had threatened me, saying if I said anything, they would abuse me more. I felt shameful about getting pregnant and thought it was maybe my fault.

When I was 19, I became involved with a man who also physically and psychologically abused me after becoming pregnant with his child. He thought women were inferior and sluts. He threatened to kill me and told me that I could never be with anyone but him. Each day, the abuse got worse, and I thought of how my father had beaten me as a child.

I intended to leave him, but he said that no matter where I went, he would find me and kill me. I felt that maybe this was my destiny. One of my sisters convinced me that if I did not get away, I would end up like our mother.

I have lived in the United States for the last six years with my son. I thought my life would change if I got away from all the people who had taken advantage of me, but it has not been easy. At some point, I thought about committing suicide because I did not know how to get the sadness and desperation out of me. I thought about my children and did not do anything to hurt myself.

After getting asylum, I petitioned for my daughter to join me and she should be arriving soon. I feel much more stable and secure knowing that I will have my children with me and I will never have to go back to Mexico because I finally have legal status in the United States. I am in long-term therapy now, and I feel hopeful about my future.

 

GRACIELA’S STORY

I am 34-year-old woman from Guatemala. During the civil war in the 1980s and 90s, soldiers came to my house looking for my father. They entered with guns, trapped us in the corner of the house, and beat my father because they believed he was involved with the guerrillas. The soldiers took him away and said that we were never going to see him again. I believe they killed him. My mother was very affected by my father’s disappearance. She treated us badly because of the trauma she suffered. She burned us and beat us for anything. She said terrible things to us, like we were stupid and were like animals.

I was raped as a young girl by my half-brother over a period of years. He always waited for me in our outside bathroom. The abuse finally stopped when he moved out of the house and got married.

My first partner Edgar also abused me after we started living on our own. He came home, wanting food. I served him beans and rice. He became upset that I had not made him meat. When I explained that he did not leave me money to buy meat, he lifted up the table, spilling all the food. He grabbed me by the hair and kicked me. He pushed me into a table. I tried to get away, but I could not escape him. He threatened me with his machete, letting me know I could not leave. He told me that I was worthless and that I was not as good as other women. After beating me, he wanted to have sex with me. I did not want to be with him, and so he forced himself on me. After this incident, he regularly threatened, beat and raped me because he believed, as a man, he had the right to whatever he wanted to me. He completely controlled me, giving me a set of rules I had to follow. Every time, I tried to leave him, he found me and forced me to return back with him.

I finally moved to another town, where I had some distance from Edgar. When Edgar learned that I had gotten together with my now-husband, he threatened both of us. Edgar believed that I belonged to him and always would. He harassed us for the next few years, even after we tried moving to different areas. My husband and I realized we could not be safe in Guatemala, and I fled to the United States.

My husband joined me some time later, and we struggled to make it. A few years after coming to the United States, I suffered a very bad accident where I lost a leg. I could not understand how one person could suffer so much. I fell into a deep depression.

Eventually, I struggled to move forward with my life and learned about the opportunity to apply for asylum. Only after going through the process of talking about my past for my asylum application have I been able to speak to my therapist more about my past abuse. I had always believed that women were not supposed to talk about the abuse that occurred in the house.

My three children have come to the United States. They are in school and teaching my husband and me English. Now that I have legal status, I can receive additional support for my physical disability. I have suffered so much throughout my life, and though I will never the person I once was, I am safe and surrounded by a loving family.

 

MARIAM’S STORY

 I am 27-years-old woman from Burkina Faso, Africa. My tribe practices female genital cutting. Usually, women are cut in groups when girls are 12, but the practice can occur at a later age up until a woman is 30 years old. If a woman is not cut, she is not respected and not believed to be a real woman. My parents supported the practice and wanted me to be cut.

I avoided being cut when I was younger by asking my aunt for help. She bribed the woman who was to cut me. I went through a fake ceremony. She put fake blood on me and told me how to act to make everyone believe that I had been cut.

When I was 20, I got pregnant by my boyfriend. My parents kicked me out of the house and would not give me permission to marry my boyfriend, even though that is what we both wanted. In my culture, you cannot get married without parental permission.

About a year later, my father’s friend asked me to marry him. I said no because he was much older than me and because he already had one wife. He was a village elder and had the right to have many wives. My father told me that I was going to marry his friend whether I wanted to or not. I did not have a choice or a say in the matter. He paid my parents a large dowry for my marriage. I moved into his house with him, his wife and three of their children.

He was physically and sexually abusive towards me from the start. He forbade me to go out to the store or visit friends, regardless if it was day or night. He said that he paid my family in order to have me, and so I could not go anywhere, that I belonged to him.

When he learned that I was not cut, he became upset and told me that I had to undergo the ritual. I was very scared to get cut because one of my sisters had died due to excessive bleeding. Luckily, I was able to escape to the United States before it occurred.

My husband has threatened to kill me when I return because I have shamed him and he believes he still owns me since my parents cannot return the dowry he paid for me.

Since getting asylum, I have been able to bring over my daughter and ensure that she never be cut or grow up in a culture where women and girls do not have a voice.

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